3. Bee Basics

All the lesson here come from the Scouting Bee keepers Merit Badge Pamphlet 
Copyright 1957, 1983  
Boy Scouts of America
Irving, Texas
ISBN 0-8395-3362-4
No 3362 Prlnted In USA
Edited and brought up to date 2011 
by R. Cockcroft
3.    The Bees' Jobs
Did you ever step on a bee and kill it? Maybe you were stung by a bee when you were younger. How much do you think that honeybee was worth? No one could tell you, at least not in dollars and cents. But honeybees are worth plenty-more than most folks realize. For example, in the USA, some 3 to 4 million colonies produce up to 160 million pounds of honey and about 4,750,000 pounds of beeswax every year in this country. Every year this honey and beeswax sell for more than $ 1.5 Billion. The value of bees as pollinators, however is more than 25 times greater than their value as producers of honey and wax. It is estimated crops and products dependent on pollination exceed $40 Billion in the USA and more than $200 Billion worldwide.

Some plants can produce seeds only if pollen is brought to them by insects. The flower of an apple tree for example may not set fruit unless pollen from another apple flower is transferred to it. The bee does the transferring job very well. Suppose farmers had to transfer pollen to all the apple flowers in every orchard. What a job? Of course pollen from the flower of an apple tree won't help a peach tree. Fortunately a bee visits only one kind of flower during a trip from its hive. Here's how the bee transfers the pollen. . At the base of a flower there is a nectar gland that secretes a sweet sugar solution (nectar), which attracts bees. As the bee forces its way through the flower to get at the nectar, it gets dusted with pollen. Pollen grains stick to the hairy back of the bee. As the bee forces its way into the next flower some of the pollen accidentally gets brushed off onto the sticky stigma of the flower. Thus pollen is transferred from one flower to another. This enables the pollinated plant to produce seed, from which a new plant may grow.

Bumblebees also carry pollen, so do butterflies and other insects. Current agricultural production practices, however, have tended to make pollination by wild bees and other native insects less reliable. Intensive cultivation such as monoculture, where large areas of land are used to grow only one type of crop, has eliminated the natural nesting sites of many wild insects. Pesticides used to control harmful insects also have killed many wild insect pollinators. For this reason, honeybees are the only really important pollinators as far as farmers are concerned. They are the only insects that can be domesticated, multiplied in numbers, and moved as needed. Over 100 different farm crops depend in part on the honeybee for proper pollination. First there are the fruits, both large (apples, peaches, oranges, etc.) and small (blueberries, cranberries, etc.). Farmers rent hundreds of thousands of hives from beekeepers every spring for orchard pollination. One or more colonies are commonly used on an acre of small fruits. Secondly, sweet clover, alsike clover, red clover, white clover, and alfalfa must be visited by an insect to produce seed. In some areas, farmers grow these crops just for the seed. Bees were not always used to pollinate such crops. When bees were first used, seed yields increased many times. For example, in one area five colonies of honeybees to an acre of alfalfa resulted in yields of 1,000 pounds or more of seed an acre. Seed yields before were only 265 to 300 pounds an acre. Clover and alfalfa also are used as forage and pasture crops for livestock and poultry. Bees also pollinate some grain crops-buckwheat, for example. Melon growers have increased yields by bringing in colonies of bees to pollinate their crop. Insects must transfer the pollen of cucumbers, muskmelons and other vine crops. Bees also are used to pollinate some vegetable crops grown for seed,

How Honey Is Made
Pollination-the bee's most important job, is done automatically as the bee gathers food. As far as the bee is concerned, gathering and storing nectar and pollen for food is its main job. The bee needs the food to live. When a bee enters a flower she sucks in the nectar and carries it in her honey stomach. When she returns to the hive, she gives the nectar to a worker who puts it into a cell. The nectar becomes honey through an evaporating and ripening process. Nectar is dilute sugar syrup. Nectar from white clover, for example ranges from 27% to 50 % water. Other nectars have less water, more sugar. It takes some 20,000 bees to bring in one pound of nectar. This makes only about one-quarter pound of honey.  Honey contains between 12% to 18% moisture. The bees evaporate or ripen nectar by fanning their wings so fast they actually set up a current of air in the hive. While the nectar is in the bee's honey stomach and when it is transferred to the hive, enzymes go to work. They mix with the nectar so that during the ripening process the sugars are converted into simple sugars called laevulose and dextrose. When the honey is ripened, the bees cover or cap each cell with a thin layer of wax, called beeswax.

Differences in Honey
The honey from one apiary (group of beehives or bee colonies) will not always be the same as honey from another apiary. The taste and color may be different. It will even smell different. The plants from which the nectar is gathered determine these differences. In the North, white clover is one of the chief sources of honey. This honey is light in color. It is in a sense, the standard for comb honey. Basswood or linden trees in some localities are sources of a honey that is slightly yellower than clover honey. Basswood honey has a distinctive flavor, very popular with some people. Buckwheat yields crops of dark, purplish honey with a strong flavor. In the Western states, especially at high altitudes, alfalfa grows in abundance. Honey made from alfalfa nectar is light in color and has a mild cinnamon flavor. In southern California, wild sages give a light water-white honey. The honeys of Texas often come from mixed sources, such as white brush, horsemint, guahilla and mesquite. Most of these honeys are light or light amber. In the humid regions of the South, the honeys are usually amber and are from mixed sources. The flavors are usually rather strong. The swamp Spanish needle in such regions as the Kankakee swamp in northern Indiana and Illinois and along the Mississippi and Delaware Rivers is the source of an amber honey. Sweet clover, plentiful in Northern Kentucky and other areas, is the source of honey with a slight green tint, with just a suggestion of vanilla flavor.

Food for the Bee
Honey, of course, is food not only for you, but also for the bees. If the honey supply in the hive is low you can give your bee’s sugar syrup, which is simply a mixture of granulated sugar and water. To make the syrup, add sugar slowly to hot water, stirring all the time. The proportions of sugar to water vary according to the season of the year and your reasons for feeding. For instance, in early spring you may give your bees thin sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water) to stimulate brood rearing. In the fall, when the bees are storing food for the winter, you may feed them thicker syrup. Anytime the hive's honey supply gets very low, you should feed the bee’s thick syrup to prevent starvation. In winter granulated sugar or fondant can be used as a solid food.

Pollen is food for bees, too. It is the only source of protein fed to the larvae. Larvae are young, immature, wingless bees. Without pollen, brood rearing is practically impossible. Pollen is gathered by bees and packed in two special "pollen baskets" on their hind legs. When the baskets are full, the bees fly to the hive and deposit the pollen in cells on the outer or upper edge of the brood. Other bees pack the pollen in the cells.

If a colony is short on pollen you can buy pollen substitute and give it to the bees. Substitutes usually are made of soybean flour and spent brewer’s yeast plus a few additional ingredients.

How Beeswax and Comb are made
Bees use honey to produce wax. If you magnify the underside of a worker bee's abdomen you will see four pairs of special wax glands. On the surface of these glands, small scales of wax are fanned by an unusual (and still unknown) process of digestion. Bees seal honey and, brood cells with the wax and make their comb with it. Bees gather honey and produce wax at the same time, but they will draw out frames only if they need room for honey storage. The longer a bee retains honey in her stomach, the more wax she produces. If the bee can store gathered honey right away, she will produce only enough wax to repair and seal cells or to make cells deeper. If bees remain filled with honey for 24 hours or more, enough wax scales are produced to build comb. Combs usually are built from the top downward. They are made of two layers of six-sided cells placed end to end, with a sheet of wax (midrib) between them. The cells are inclined slightly downward from front to back so honey will not run out. Two or more units of a comb are started side by side. As these units get bigger their edges meet, so that eventually all the units in one line form one comb. At the vertical seams where the units join are odd shaped and irregular cells called accommodation cells.

Worker cells are the smallest at five cells to an inch or 55 cells per square inch on both sides. There are four drone cells to an inch and 33.5 cells per square inch on both sides. A queen cell is large and looks like a peanut. Queen cells are placed here and there on the comb, mostly at the edges. A queen cell hangs vertically, in contrast to the horizontal positions of worker and drone cells. Commercial beeswax is made by melting old or broken frames and the cappings removed during the honey extracting process, Beeswax is used as an agent in salves, ointments, camphor, and pomades. It's used for making candles, comb foundation, polishes and many other products. Beeswax makes the best candles because it doesn't smoke as it burns. It doesn't soften at higher temperatures, so beeswax candles don't bend or droop.

Bees also produce propolis, often called bee glue. This is a gluelike material made from resinous waxes collected from the buds and limbs of certain plants. Bees also will pick up tar, chewing gum, or any similar waxy material to make glue. The bees use propolis to fill cracks in the hive. They also use this material to make hive entrances smaller or to strengthen hive parts. Propolis is antibacterial, and used in some toothpaste and can be used as a temporary treatment for tooth decay.*

2.    The Bee Colony
Let's hop into a helicopter and hover a medium-sized city for a while. The population could be anywhere from 30,000 to 75,000.  That is how many bees live in a hive too. You'll find that the city and the beehive are quite similar. From the helicopter you can see a network of streets. The beehive has streets too, bee spaces, they're called. How about the police officers on the corners? The bees have a police force too, and a good one. It keeps out bee robbers. In the city you can see people going to work, for there are families to feed. Bees also have families to feed.  Workers leave the colony for work every day. As you look down at the city, look for the window air conditioners. You won't see units in the bee city, but it’s air-cooled nevertheless. The temperature is always about the same in the bee city. How do they do it?            With their wings. Bees have a fanning system that gives them perfect ventilation and air conditioning. This is about as far as the comparison between a city and a beehive can go. For one thing, males don't work in the bee city. Sterile female bees called workers do all the labor in the beehive. The males, called drones, are loafers. The workers will kill unwanted drones. The bee city has no mayor or other form of government. Instead, it only has a Queen.

The Queen
The queen is not a real queen, At least, she doesn't rule over her colony. She doesn't direct the colony's policies. She's simply an egg laying machine. She can lay 1,500 to 2,000 eggs a day. She can be the mother of 100,000 workers in one beehive.

The queen comes from the same kind of egg as the worker. Her diet is what makes her a queen instead of a worker. The larva of a potential queen is fed an extremely rich food-called royal jelly-by nurse bee workers. Other bee larvae get the rich food only for the first three days of the larval stage. Then they are fed a mixture of honey and pollen, called bee bread, during the rest of the larval developmental period. The nutritional quality of the queen’s food influences her development. She is larger and longer than the other bees, and has fully developed reproductive organs. Her abdomen comes to a point and her wings seem shorter than the worker's.
The queen chews around the tip of her cell and emerges at the end of 16 to 18 days. If the queen in a hive is killed accidentally, a new queen is reared by the nurse bees from a worker larva. The worker larva, however, cannot be more than three days old. Soon after emergence the queen gets food, and then destroys any remaining queen cells. Often she may have to fight and kill queens that have already hatched. Between 5 and 10 days after the queen hatches, she takes one or more flights and mates with up to 25 drones while in the air. After this the queen remains fertile for life. About two days later she begins laying eggs. The eggs are pearly while and about one-sixteenth of an inch long. The queen usually lays eggs from February to October. The length of the egg-laying period depends on weather and available pollen and honey. In the egg-laying process, not all eggs get fertilized. An unfertilized egg produces a drone, a fertilized egg, a worker or queen. If the queen doesn't mate within three weeks after hatching, she usually loses the ability to mate. But she can still lay eggs that develop into drones, even if she mates, she may not always become fertile and thus will produce only drones. A queen that produces only drones should be replaced. While a queen can live 3 years or more, most beekeepers replace her with a new queen every year or every 2 years.

The Drone
A bee without a sting, that’s the drone, he can't even collect honey. The only useful thing he does is mate with the queen so worker bees can be produced. After a drone mates with the Queen, he dies. The other drones simply loaf. They eat food that is stored in the hive. But their life of luxury is short. After the swarming season or whenever the honey supply runs short, the workers drive the drones out of the hive to die of cold and hunger. If a colony is queen less, the drones are usually allowed to stay until a new queen is fertilized. The drone is the only male member of the hive. He's larger and heavier than the worker, but shorter than the queen. His body is quite blunt at the end and his wings extend the entire length of his body. He's hatched from an infertile egg and reared in a cell that's larger than the cell of a worker. A drone develops fully in 24 days. Every hive will have a few hundred Drones in the brood season at any one time, Drones fly from hive to hive and thus help spread Varroa Mites by this behavior

The Worker
A worker or honeybee develops fully in 21 days. She doesn't live very long-she literally works herself to death in 6 to 8 weeks. In winter, when they are less active, fall-hatched workers may live for several months. Worker bees are sterile females. They do not produce eggs except under unusual conditions. They are produced from fertilized eggs laid in worker cells. When they emerge from their cells they are fully mature. The abdomen of the worker is shorter than that of the queen and comes to a point more abruptly. It's also smaller in diameter. Workers have a barbed stinger. When a worker bee pulls away from her victim, the barbs hold, pulling the stinger from her body. The bee soon dies.

A honeybee starts working almost immediately after she emerges from her cell. She never stops working until she dies. Here's her work schedule: First, she combs herself and eats honey and pollen to gain strength. Then, during successive periods, she cleans out cells: feeds the older larvae, then produces royal jelly that is fed to the younger larvae: cleans, cools and guards the hive: evaporates nectar: produces wax and builds comb: and takes orientation flights. She also may work as a nursemaid to the queen. After about 3 weeks, she carries water, pollen, nectar, and propolis as a field bee. She may also serve as a scout bee, finding these materials and helping locate a future home site for the swarm. Each hive can have up to 60,000 workers when the honey flow is at its peak.

Bee Breed (Genetics)
The queen, drones, and workers make up the colony in a hive. But before you establish a bee colony, you'll have to decide what breed of bees you'll keep. The Italian bees are more commonly used than other breeds and generally are recommended for beginners. Bees of the Italian breed have three to five bands of yellow on the abdomen. The head and most of the rest of the body is black. The Italian bees winter well, and if pure bred are usually gentle. Probably the second most popular breed is the Caucasian breed. These bees are often recommended for backyard beekeepers, especially if neighbors are close. Purebred Caucasians are quite gentle. They swarm very little and winter well. One strain is yellow, somewhat like the Italians. Bees of the strain used by most beekeepers are gray. There are other breeds: Carniolan, New Minnesota Hygienic, Russian, Buckfast, Starline, and there are crosses, too. If you want to start a lively discussion among beekeepers, ask which the best breed of honeybees is. Actually there isn't any clear answer, but you'll probably find that the best breed for you is the one that others in your area are keeping.

The Brood
Every hive has brood - the eggs and young larvae of the bee. There are several kinds of brood. An empty queen cell looks like an acorn cup. Sealed, it looks like a peanut. A sealed (capped) worker brood cell has a yellow to tan, leathery appearance and is quite uniform. The drone brood has round cappings that look like bullets, usually found in the lower corners of the frames and on burr comb outside the frames. Capped honey cells normally are white and may look water-soaked. Pollen cells usually (the pupal stage) are only partly filled. Thus are seldom sealed. Pollen is used, of course, as food for the worker and drone larvae. Three days after an egg is laid it becomes a grub or larva. All larvae are fed royal jelly by the worker bees. Royal jelly is a high-protein, creamy substance produced in glands in the heads of worker bees. After 3 days, only the future Queen bee continues to get royal jelly. The future worker bees are fed honey and pollen. In 5 or 6 days a larva nearly fills the cell and is sealed in with a wax capping. The larva becomes a pupa. In the pupal stage, the legless grub changes into an adult bee. The bee then chews its way out of the cell.
The Queen bee remains in the pupal stage for 7 to 8 days. It takes 16 to 18 days for an egg to become an adult Queen bee.
The Worker bee remains in the pupal stage for 12 or 13 days. II takes 21 days for an egg to become an adult worker bee.
The Drone is in the pupal stage 15 to 16 days. It takes 24 days for an egg to become an adult drone.

Importance of Temperature
Temperature has a lot to do with the activities of bees. In fact Honeybees rarely do any useful work when the temperature goes below 50 °F or above 100°F. Their activity slows at temperatures below 70° and
above 95°. They do practically all their comb building and brood rearing at temperatures of 92° or 93°. When the outside temperature hits 57°, bees start to cluster. In a cluster, bees make their own heat. It's warmest at the center of the cluster. As the temperature continues to drop, the cluster draws closer together. The temperature on the surface or outer edge of the cluster remains close to 43° to 46°. As winter progresses, the cluster temperature at the center gets higher. Finally it reaches a brood-rearing temperature of 93° to 96°, usually in January or early February. Then the Queen starts to lay and brood-rearing begins.